After the battle of Worcester on September 3rd 1651, the future King Charles II fled from the field attempting to reach the continent of Europe. Heading south he arrived in West Dorset. Even though he was only in the county for about three days, almost every town and village has a story relating to this episode in English history.
The Prince’s pursuers first came to the house of the Royalist judge, Sir Hugh Wyndham, at Pilsdon thinking he was hiding there. As Sir Hugh fumed and raged in the Hall they proceeded to ransacked it in their search for the prince. Intelligence was at fault, the prince being at the Manor house of Sir Hugh’s nephew, Colonel Francis Wyndham, at Trent, then in Somerset.
Prince Charles had arrived at Trent, which has changed little, disguised as the servant of Jane Lane. The Prince’s hiding place off Lady Wyndham’s room is still preserved. It is said that Charles became petulant when the ringing of the church bells disturbed him, and even more angry when he told the villagers had rung them because, mistakenly, they had thought he had been captured.
On September 22nd he set out for Charmouth and a promised boat that would take him to France. The party consisted of Col. Wyndham, Lord Wilmot, Juliana Coningsby and the poor Prince in his now established role as lady’s servant. The elopement of Wilmot and Juliana was their cover story, should they be stopped.
Arriving at Charmouth the royal party are thought to have taken lodgings at the Queen’s Armes, The same house originally built for an abbot of Forde where Catherine of Aragon had stayed on her arrival in England in 1501. The promised boat however did not materialise. The story goes that the captains wife, having learned what was afoot and being concerned for her husbands safety, had got him drunk and locked him in his room. Leaving Charmouth the royal party headed east to Bridport
Unknown to Charles the alarm had been raised at Charmouth. As the royal party was leaving the eastern end of Bridport on the morning of September 23rd, Captain Macey with a troop of parliamentary soldiers entered at the western end. At the junction of Lee Lane with the main Bridport to Dorchester the royal party decided on the spur of the moment to return to the relative safety of Trent. Macey could hardly have missed the Prince by more than five minutes as he galloped past the opening to this insignificant track on his way to Dorchester. A plaque erected on the spot in 1991 commemerates the event.
It was in the little village inn at Broadwindsor that one of most hilarious episodes took place. Soon after the royal party arrived and went to an upstairs room, searching Parliamentary troops turned up and demanded accommodation, so the prince’s party could not leave without passing the pursuers in the bar. Then, by sheer luck, a rumpus was raised in the village over a baby born to one of the camp followers. The authorities were afraid that the child would be left in their care as a pauper. Such was the performance and argument that the soldiers returned to the inn exhausted and went straight to bed, leaving the way clear for the royal party to steal quietly away.
Prince Charles and Lord Wilmot were finally able to leave Trent in October and made their way to Shoreham in Sussex where they were able to take passage on a coal boat. Incidentally the collier was bound for Poole and made a detour across the channel to drop the Prince in France, which is probably just as well or the prince could have once again found himself back in Dorset.
After the restoration, the Prince, as King Charles II, paid many visits to his friends in Dorset and tradition has it that during one of these visits the King stopped at a blacksmith’s forge in the small village of Godmanstone and requested of the smithy a glass of porter. Quoth the blacksmith, ‘I cannot oblige you Sire, as I have no license.’ Then said the King, ‘From now on you have a license to sell beer and porter.’ So was born the Old Smith’s Arms in the forge at Godmanstone. Built of mud and flint, at 20ft by 10ft it was for many years claimed to be the smallest public house in England.